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Setting the scene: Patriots-Eagles

08.20.12 at 5:05 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The two longest tenured coaches in the NFL renew acquaintances as the Patriots host the Eagles in New England’s final home preseason game of 2012.

Bill Belichick may or may not start Tom Brady again, depending on his comfort with his offensive line while Andy Reid will go with Michael Vick at quarterback. Ideal conditions of clear skies and temperatures in the low-to-mid 70s are expected for the 8 p.m. ET kickoff on ESPN.

The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe tweeted three hours before kickoff that there will be “no Brady” against the Eagles. Also not expected to play are Wes Welker and Jerod Mayo.

Vick injured the thumb on his throwing hand in a 24-23 win at home against the Steelers on Aug. 9. Reid called a minor injury afterward as the Eagles dodged a bullet.

The Belichick-Reid bond is arguably one of the strongest in the NFL, as shown when Belichick took time out two days before New England’s first preseason game and traveled to Philadelphia to attend the funeral of Garrett Reid, Andy Reid’s 27-year-old son who died on Aug. 5 during training camp at Lehigh University.

This game is just the kind of test Belichick wants to see his first-team offense pass after coming up very short and weak against the Saints on Aug. 9. Brady was just 4-for-7 for 30 yards, strip-sacked once for a turnover while his offensive line was overwhelmed by the Saints defensive front.

The Patriots figure to be tested by an Eagles front that sacked Pittsburgh quarterbacks seven times and hit them seven more times in Philadelphia 11 days ago. Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and Trent Cole lead an impressive D-Line group for Philly.

To that end, tonight could be the first time we see how Logan Mankins looks after taking part in practice all last week. By the end of the week, Mankins – four-time Pro Bowler – was taking reps at his customary left guard spot with the first team offensive line. His return could help left tackle Nate Solder feel more comfortable. Another thing to keep a close eye on is how much time center Dan Koppen and guard Dan Connolly get. Koppen has been going back and forth with Ryan Wendell for first-team reps while Connolly was bumped back to the second team unit, occasionally spelling Donald Thomas at right guard. Marcus Cannon is expected to start again at right tackle.

Sebastian Vollmer won’t be available but his return could come this week in Tampa. He will reportedly be taken off the physically unable to perform list as the team leaves Tuesday for practices Wednesday and Thursday with the Buccaneers in advance of their game against Tampa Bay Friday at Raymond James Stadium. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Garrett Reid, New England Patriots, nfl

Target Practice: Who is the favorite target of the Patriots’ passing game this preseason?

08.20.12 at 1:05 pm ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains an imperfect stat ‘€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback ‘€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the New England passing game for the 2012 preseason:

Julian Edelman: Four catches on seven targets
Danny Woodhead: Three catches on three targets
Rob Gronkowski: Two catches on three targets
Jabar Gaffney: Two catches on three targets
Shane Vereen: Two catches on three targets
Eric Kettani: Two catches on two targets
Tyler Urban: One catch on one target
Aaron Hernandez: One catch on one target
Jeremy Ebert: One catch on two targets
Britt Davis: One catch on four targets
Donte’€™ Stallworth: One catch on two targets
Jesse Holley: Zero catches on three targets
Alex Silvestro: Zero catches on two targets
Brandon Bolden: Zero catches on one target
Matthew Slater: Zero catches on one target
Brandon Lloyd: Zero catches on one target

By position:
Wide receiver: Nine catches on 23 targets.
Running back: Seven catches on nine targets.
Tight end: Four catches on seven targets.

Read More: Patriots, targets,

Former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit on D&C: ‘Officials are the integrity of the game’

08.20.12 at 12:08 pm ET
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Former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, who leads referee training for the league, joined Dennis & Callahan Monday morning to discuss the NFL’€™s labor dispute with officials.

To listen to the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

‘€œFootball officiating in the National Football League is a full-time job for almost the whole year masquerading as a part time job,’€ Markbreit said. ‘€œThey all have other jobs, but that other job comes second.’€

Explaining the source of labor dispute, Markbreit said, ‘€œThe reason [the officials] are so steadfast is because they don’€™t want things taken away from them. Like pension. The league has offered to replace their defined pension for the existing officials with a defined IRA which at present interest rates would not come close to the retirement. And many of these guys rely on that retirement.’€

Markbreit emphasized the importance of officiating and how difficult he thinks it will be for replacement crews to be effective.

‘€œThere are a lot of people talking about, ‘€˜Oh the officials aren’€™t that important.’€™ The officials are the integrity of the game,’€ Markbreit said. ‘€œThese guys are gleaned from the finest college conferences all over the United Sates. They are the best officials available. To try to replace them with fellows that have had zero experience working pro football — the guys in the NFL right now have over 1,500 years of experience, the replacement officials have zero.’€

Markbreit said his former colleagues were standing up to the league, but, ‘€œIt’€™s hard to beat the NFL,’€ Markbreit said. ‘€œHow far it will go, I don’€™t know. But I do know this, they have to sit down and negotiate in order to come to an agreement.’€

As for the NFL’€™s plans to add three new officiating crews, Markbreit was not optimistic it could work.

‘€œIf they add three new crews of 21 men, they are taking men that have no experience working professional football,’€ he said. ‘€œThe average year they’€™ll take in one or two guys, maybe three or four at the very most because of retirement. ‘€¦ It takes three or four or five years to really get acclimated to the [speed of] the National Football League.’€

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Dennis & Callahan, Jerry Markbreit, NFL officiating,

Mike Tirico on D&C: Patriots’ lack of ‘drama’ a good sign

08.20.12 at 11:22 am ET
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ESPN’s Mike Tirico, who will handle the play-by-play for Monday night’s Patriots-Eagles preseason game, joined Dennis & Callahan Monday morning to talk about the Patriots’ prospects for 2012, his expectations for a more mature Michael Vick, and his thoughts on the Monday Night Football booth without analyst Ron Jaworski.

To listen to the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Tirico said he expects to see a lot of Philadelphia’€™s starters, but for the Patriots, who play three games in 10 days, ‘€œMost of the biggest names I wouldn’€™t expect to see much of, if at all.’€

Tirico noted that Patriots camp has been quiet for a team that he expects to see in January.

‘€œNo drama,’€ Tirico said. ‘€œI mean, how many national stories, even beyond ESPN, magazines, how many national stories have we seen about the Patriots’€™ this or that? Very little. ‘€¦ The Pats don’€™t have the big issues other people have. That’€™s why most people say this will be a 12-, 13-, 14-win team.’€

Tirico said to expect to see a focus on Pats rookies Chandler Jones and Dont’€™a Hightower, as well as Eagles rookie defenders Fletcher Cox and Michael Kendricks.

‘€œThat’€™s what you want to see, as these guys function in games with calls and go against real guys,” Tirico said. “And I think for the Patriots defense, it is a good test because you’€™re seeing a very good offense in Philly for upwards of three quarters in this game.”

Asked whether he felt it was more likely that by the end of the season Vick would be named to the Pro Bowl or would be struggling to hang on to his starting job, Tirico chose the Pro Bowl. However, he acknowledged that Vick ‘€œhas not stayed healthy. He’€™s played 12 games. He has taken too many hits and needs to be smarter about it.”

Tirico said he spoke with Vick on Sunday.

“He was as professional, mature and focused a Michael Vick as I’€™ve ever talked to, and I’€™ve been interviewing him since his freshman year at Virginia Tech in 1999, so I expect a big year from him,” Tirico said.

Monday’s game marks a change in the ESPN booth, as Jaworski is out after five years.

‘€œI don’€™t make these decisions,’€ Tirico said. ‘€œI love Jaws, in fact I just talked to him a couple of days ago. We’€™re still great friends. [ESPN] wanted to go to a two-man booth and wanted to put Jon [Gruden] in there with us and just have the two of us do the whole deal. So that was their choice, and I miss Jaws and I miss hanging out on the road with him. But Jon’€™s a one-of-a-kind guy.’€

Read More: Dennis & Callahan, Michael Vick, Mike Tirico, New England Patriots

A look at crew of replacement officials for Monday’s Patriots-Eagles game

08.20.12 at 10:56 am ET
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Here’s a look at the officials who will be working Monday night’s Patriots-Eagles game at Gillette Stadium, per our friends at FootballZebras.com:

Referee: Jerry Frump
Umpire: Brian Taylor
Head linesman: Bill Etzler
Line judge: Charles Derrick, Jr.
Field judge: Tony Robinson
Side judge: Randall Beesley
Back judge: William Theodore
Alternate: Tim Morris

Frump worked the preseason opener in Cincinnati last week for the Bengals-Jets contest, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer (where he committed this slightly embarrassing gaffe). According to this story, Frump is a graduate of Illinois Commercial College, and has spent 14 seasons working in Divisions I and III as well as other pro leagues. Frump also worked as an NFL replacement official in 2001, along with as did side judge Randal Beesley and head linesman Bill Etzler, both of whom are also set to work Monday’s game.

Following the flags: Which Patriots have been penalized the most this preseason?

08.20.12 at 9:57 am ET
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Our weekly “Following the Flags” feature drew a lot of attention last season, so we decided to bring it back this year. Through one week of the preseason, the Patriots have been flagged for five penalties for 81 yards. Here’s a look on how things break down through one week, not including penalties that were declined or offset:

Most penalized players, listed by total flags and with total yardage lost:
*S Tavon Wilson: one penalty (pass interference), 46 yards.
OT Nate Solder: two penalties (two offensive holding), 20 yards
CB Marquice Cole: one penalty (illegal block above the waist), 10 yards
OT Marcus Cannon: one penalty (false start), 5 yards.

Most penalized by position:
Offensive line: Three penalties for 30 yards
Safety: One penalty for 46 yards
Cornerback: One penalty for 10 yards

Most frequently called penalties on the Patriots:
Offensive Holding: Two
False start: One
Illegal block above the waist: One
Pass Interference: One

(*We’ll leave the penalty next to Wilson’s name, but a closer look at the film reveals that it was cornerback Sterling Moore who should have been called for the infraction.)

Read More: Patriots, penalties,

Brandon Lloyd: Playing with Tom Brady and Pats ‘everything it’s built up to be’

08.18.12 at 1:10 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Another phase of Brandon Lloyd‘s indoctrination into the “Patriot Way” came to a close on Friday with the end of training camp practices.

Lloyd has OTAs, minicamp and now a full training camp under his belt since signing with the Patriots on March 17. So, what has he learned?

“It’s everything that it’s built up to be,” Lloyd said Friday after the final practice of training camp. “It takes every ounce of concentration and physical preparation and mental preparation to be able to function in this offense. They have a championship pedigree and I’m just doing my best to get up to speed and execute.”

The 31-year old Lloyd was drafted in the fourth round of the 2003 draft by the 49ers. Since, he has played for the Niners, Redskins, Bears, Broncos and Rams. He has never had the chance to play with a quarterback of the caliber of Tom Brady. He has spent every waking moment trying to prepare himself for making the most of this chance.

“You hear about it and try to emulate it the best you can,” Lloyd said. “It’s just different when every person on the roster is doing it, as opposed to four or five guys or 10 guys or 11. It’s definitely been fulfilling.”

Lloyd signed a three-year deal with the New England Patriots for $12 million with incentives that could make it worth $15.5 million. He spent some time during and after practice with Ty Law, a teammate of his in 2009 in Denver and someone in earlier years who was paid big bucks to shut players like Lloyd down.

“He was the shutdown guy,” Lloyd said of Law. “When I first got in the league, he was always on the best receiver. Then he was in Denver in 2009. I just remember him being an excellent pro.

“That’s what’s brings it all full circle. Just being a pro in everything he does. Then he gets out on the field and does it. That’s what makes him the best.”

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots
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